At a time when many media bureaus covering Washington are seeing their resources slashed, Time Warner Cable is hiring. The modest D.C. outpost, located in the basement of the C-SPAN building—a quick hop from Capitol Hill—is looking to add another reporter to its scrappy operation.
The bureau serves Time Warner Cable’s 14 news channels in New York, North Carolina and Austin, Texas—not so much covering D.C. news as tapping the Washingtonbased lawmakers from these regions for stories of local interest. A year after it opened, Bernie Han, vice president of TWC news and local programming, says the bureau provides a big advantage over the local broadcast stations the cable channels go up against. “It’s made a huge impact,” Han says. “The other guys can’t compete with what we gather in D.C.”
As has been well reported, many media companies’ D.C. bureaus are a shell of their former selves, victims of the most recent recession. “It’s where I think a lot of local news organizations made their cuts,” says Jennifer Babich, TWC Washington bureau chief. “They decided they can get the feed from CNN, but what suffers is the local news angle. There’s no way you get the same kind of coverage from a national news organization.”
The TWC channels compete with a handful of stations with a serious D.C. presence, including WXII Greensboro (N.C., part of Hearst TV), WSOC Charlotte (N.C., Cox Media Group) and, of course, the network- owned stations. (NBC and Fox have bureaus in the C-SPAN building as well.) “We have a fantastic bureau in Washington,” says Hank Price, president and general manager of WXII. “It’s in our newscasts every day. I don’t think anyone [in Greensboro] is close to our coverage.”
Yet most stations competing against TWC’s news channels don’t have a consistent Washington local news source.
The launch of TWC’s D.C. operation had some roots in New York City’s itinerant mayor: TWC’s New York 1 reporters and crews frequently hopped the Amtrak to Washington for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s many policy speeches there, compelling management to ponder how the costs of having a permanent Washington operation would compare.
The bureau features an executive producer, reporter and producer, and will add another reporter. Measuring 500 square feet, it’s hardly a princely spread. “You’re not walking into The Politico,” says Han with a laugh. Steve Paulus, TWC senior VP of news, says the bureau cost less than $500,000 to launch, while annual operating costs are in the six figures as well.
Privately, TWC’s station competition says viewership on the cable channels is modest enough that they are not terribly threatened by their rival’s unique D.C. packages. “It’s difficult to see them as a regular competitor,” says one station chief.
But playing the underdog has always been a core value at TWC. “Some days, there’s not nearly enough of us to cover all the news coming out of Washington,” says Babich. “But I feel gratified that our company is investing in this when others are cutting back.”
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